WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act Thursday to stave off the World Trade Center Health Program’s funding shortfall and expand its services to Pentagon and Shanksville responders.
In a 94-4 vote, the Senate passed the amendment containing another incremental injection of $676 million in federal funding into the health care program for the ailing 120,000 responders and survivors of the 9/11 attack, its aftermath and the cleanup work.
The measure authorizes $450 million for the health program to address a shortfall in fiscal year 2029 amid rising costs, and more than $200 million to allow responders at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania crash sites to enroll in the health program for the first time.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sponsored the amendment and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) worked with her on strategy and to secure its passage despite obstacles in a Senate often divided along partisan lines.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The U.S. Senate voted 94-4 Thursday for legislation to stave off the World Trade Center Health Program’s funding shortfall and expand its services to Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania responders.
- The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act contained an injection of $676 million into the health care program for the ailing 120,000 responders and survivors of the 9/11 attack, its aftermath and cleanup work.
- The measure authorizes $450 million for the health program to address a shortfall in fiscal year 2029, and more than $200 million to allow responders to the Pentagon and Shanksville crash sites to enroll in the health program for the first time.
“So, we won again. Every time it's a struggle. But when we fight, we win. We’ll keep fighting until it’s permanent,” Schumer said in an interview outside the Senate chamber immediately after the vote.
Gillibrand said in a statement: “There is strong bipartisan consensus that we must support our heroes and I will work hard alongside Senator Schumer and our 9/11 first responders, survivors and advocates to get this amendment passed and signed into law.”
The next step for the health program will be final passage of the Senate defense reauthorization bill, expected Thursday night.
Then, when Congress returns in September a House-Senate conference committee will craft a final version from Senate and House bills. The House and Senate each then will hold votes on that version.
Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), the bill’s House sponsor, said in a statement: “While procedural rules prevented us from including funds for the program in the House NDAA, my team worked closely with that of Senator Gillibrand every step of the way to secure this funding for the program in the Senate NDAA.”
Garbarino said he, Gillibrand, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) and the New York delegation “will fight like hell to get this funding through conference committee and ultimately signed into law.”
The amendment passed on the day Gillibrand hosted a First Responder Summit in Washington.
“This important amendment will help close the funding shortfall in the World Trade Center Health Program and uphold our promise to care for all those still suffering from 9/11 related illnesses,” said Gillibrand.
The amendment is the latest attempt by first responders to secure continuing health care and funding since the al-Qaida terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and the foiled flight over Shanksville.
Congress created the health program in 2011 with a five-year authorization. In 2015, a bipartisan majority in Congress reauthorized the program and extended it through 2090.
In 2022, Gillibrand and supporters proposed legislation to provide $3.6 billion for costs that would extend throughout the program’s life, but Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not include it in the omnibus spending bill.
Schumer and Gillibrand succeeded in reopening the process and McConnell agreed to add $1 billion for the program in the final bill passed by Congress.
“We created the World Trade Center Health Program so that 9/11 responders could afford necessary health care, but we can’t let funding for the program dry up. We cannot fail to properly care for those who answered the call of duty,” Schumer said in introducing the amendment that passed Thursday.
“Our work is not done. Just as the first responders have been there for us and for America, we will continue fighting for them,” he said.